Finding Inspiration: Using Secrets as Writing Prompts

It’s possible to draw inspiration from all sorts of sources; including some that perhaps aren’t as obvious as others. Every source of inspiration can have its own unique impact on the final story you write, and different people will get along better with some prompts than others, so it’s worth experimenting and seeing what works for you.

Today we’re going to use people’s secrets as prompts for our stories. Secrets are great as they inherently contain some aspect of drama or conflict, otherwise they wouldn’t be kept secret.

Let’s take a look at some secrets from PostSecret – these are real secrets sent in to an anonymous post box in America. People use this as a way to vent or reveal secrets they can never share in their regular lives.

“I always thought I’d travel alone, but things have changed.”

“I just found a spider on my desk…so I put it in my roommate’s bed”

“Last time I graduated, I couldn’t have been more excited. This time, I couldn’t be more terrified.”

“I’m scared that my surfing days are over.”

“I buy antique pictures because it makes me feel like I still have family.”

“I went to help them, and they helped me in ways I didn’t even know I needed.”

With each secret, question why it was written, what it meant to the writer, and what else might have been happening in their life. Let’s use one as an example:

“I buy antique pictures because it makes me feel like I still have family.”

Why does the writer no longer have family? Are they dead? Ostracised? Estranged?

Why are the pictures the writer is buying antique ones? What does this say about the family they have lost?

Who is the writer? What does their life look like? Is it lonely, or filled with new friends or nomadic adventure?

You can find a whole lot more prompts on postsecret.com – find one that inspires you, that makes you want to inquire more into the life and world of the writer.

Whichever prompt you choose, try writing a story about the person who wrote that secret. For a bit of extra challenge try to include the text of the secret in the story, even if it is simply a reference to them sending that very secret!

It is very important, when using secrets like this as prompts for your writing, to consider the source. There is a human being out there who wrote that prompt, who has that weight on their chest. This isn’t to say it is wrong to be inspired by them, but do consider the emotional weight of that went into writing and sending the secret, and treat it with respect accordingly. It would also, in most cases, be unethical to use a secret someone trusted in you as a writing prompt. Not only is that secret closer to home and more likely to be uncovered or seen by the person who placed their trust in you, the joy of PostSecret is that those who write in know their secrets will end up online for all to see – they have consented to their anonymised letters being seen. If a friend who trusted you hasn’t given you consent to use their secrets or life events as inspiration, don’t!

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